It's that time of year again the HAPO Community Credit Union Water Follies, and unlimited hydro races on the Columbia River.

Piston vs. Turbine (Townsquare Media)
Piston vs. Turbine (Townsquare Media)
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Since the 1960's, the hydros have been planing across the river, thrilling thousands. A little history here.

The original engines used to power the hydros were surplus World War II piston engines that came from P-38 and P-51 Mustang fighters. They used either Allison or Rolls Royce Griffin engines that produced anywhere from 1,450 to 2,000 to even 3,000 horsepower. They emitted an unmistakable growl that could be heard in North Richland on boat race Sunday.

Old piston powered hydro (You Tube Rob Traquail)
Old piston powered hydro (You Tube Rob Traquail)
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Some enterprising boat racers, raced with a growing shortage of piston engines (many gobbled up by the bigger teams), set about in 1967 with the idea of taking a helicopter turbine engine and sticking it in a boat. The first effort was a 34-foot long monster called the Golden Commotion, which caught fire and burned in 1968.

Then noted boat builder Ron Jones in 1974 debuted the U-95, which won a few races, but technical issues prevented the style from being a widespread success. The in 1980, the Pay-n-Pak hydro made it's racing debut, and became the first truly successful helicopter turbine engine powered boat. It was propelled by the same engines that send choppers of Vietnam.

Chip Hanauer drove another successful turbine boat in 1984, the Miller Lite. Since then, everybody else caught on, and the piston boat went away. The last hydro main event race won by a piston boat was the Cooper's Express on the Columbia River in 1989.

But many come to the Columbia Cup to watch the vintage hydro's run, the 1979 Atlas Van Lines, the 1980 Miss Budweiser, the 1950's vintage Miss Bardahl and The Hawaii-Kai to name a few. With their open cockpits, you could see the drivers bouncing around, and hear the growl coming up the river. Some say that's when real men drove the boats. Interesting note: Some drivers didn't wear safety belts because if a boat flipped it was considered better to be thrown clear than have a couple of tons of wood, metal and plastic land on top of you.

Vintage hydro at Columbia cup (Townsquare media)
Vintage hydro at Columbia cup (Townsquare media)
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